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Fury as exams axed in 'secret'

Latin, Greek and archaeology go in 'barbarous' cull of 11 subjects. Philippa White reports

The country's biggest exam board is to axe 11 minority exams including GCSEs in classics, Russian, and archaeology.

The decision has been called educational barbarism and teachers are furious that the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance failed to consult its own subject advisory committees.

AQA, which sent out a letter to schools last week, says the subject entries are small or declining and all bar one - archaeology - are offered by other boards.

Summer 2006 will be the last chance to sit AQA GCSEs in accounting, archaeology, Greek, home economic textiles, Latin, Russian, social science, and travel and tourism, or AS and A2s in Greek, Latin and European studies.

More than 5,000 students took AQA's Greek and Latin GCSE, AS and A2 exams last year.

The exams are also offered by OCR, but teachers say AQA caters better for state school pupils studying classics on a reduced timetable.

Last year more than half of AQA's entries at Latin GCSE were from state schools, compared to 30 per cent of OCR's entries, and 80 per cent of state-school pupils taking Greek GCSE chose AQA.

David Tristram, chair of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers and head of Kingswood school, Corby, which runs Latin clubs at breakfast and after school, said: "We regard the axing of these exams as educational barbarism. It places the longer-term future of classics in schools at risk."

Archaeology GCSE is only offered by AQA. It was taken by just 356 students this year.

AQA said most students were choosing the AS instead, but Richard Pulley, who started teaching archaeology GCSE at Chichester high school for boys last year, said many of his students would not stay for the sixth-form.

Don Henson, education officer of the British Council for Archaeology, sits on AQA's history and archaeology advisory committee but still has not been told of the decision.

He said: "We are hopping mad - not only about the decision but the way it was reached in secret. There is a huge interest among teenagers in the subject thanks to the Time Team television programme, but there just are not enough teachers to teach it."

Dr Ruth Fairchild, chair of the Institute of Consumer Sciences, said cutting home economics textiles was short-sighted: "This GCSE is a classic way into other areas like design, and textiles is still a huge industry in Britain."

Dr Robin Aizlewood, deputy director of the school of slavonic and eastern european studies at University College, London and former chair of examiners in Russian for Edexcel, said: "Some schools may use this as an excuse to reconsider whether they offer Russian at GCSE." Nearly 1,000 students took the GCSE this year.

Helen Hallett, assistant director (external relations) at AQA, said none of the board's subject advisory committees were consulted because they had a "vested interest".

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